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Zastrozzi: The Master of Discipline
University of New Mexico

Zastrozzi
Justino Brokaw
Murder, revenge, sword fights, seduction, humor, tragedy. This month, the University of New Mexico Department of Theatre and Dance lets you get a little bit of everything in Zastrozzi: The Master of Discipline. The play, while being quite dark overall, is somewhat whimsical as well, almost like a fairy tale. Not a Disney fairy tale, mind you—a real fairy tale, one not prettied up for young audiences. A dark, frightening fairy tale.

The play, by George F. Walker and directed by Bill Walters, takes place in 19th century Europe ("probably Italy," as the program says, perhaps hinting at the witty humor interjected throughout the play). It tells the story of Zastrozzi, an infamous master criminal and swordsman who seeks revenge upon Verezzi for killing his mother some years earlier. This seemingly noble motive pales in light of how comically evil Zastrozzi is. Dressed in dark colors, narcissistic, and taking great pleasure in evil doing, this is the kind of man who has nightmares about being kind. He recounts how he raped a woman during a recent conquest as if he were speaking of a tender lover's encounter. Justino Brokaw is perfect for the role: menacing, calculating and deliberate. He has a powerful, clear voice that fills out his character as well as the large performing space of Rodey Theatre. There is humor in the physical contrast between Brokaw and Zastrozzi's friend Bernardo, played by Stephen Balling—Brokaw has a larger-than-life villain personality but is significantly shorter than Balling, a good fit as Zastrozzi's somewhat clueless, but nonetheless vicious, henchman. In spite of his physical advantage, Bernardo is, like almost everyone else, intimidated by Zastrozzi.

Evening Star Barron and Ashley Brown alternatively play Matilda (Brown was Matilda at the performance I saw), Zastrozzi's gypsy companion and the only character who might contend as Zastrozzi's equal. She is strong willed, a sword fighter in her own right, and, as Zastrozzi is infamous for villainy, she is for seduction; Brown aptly embodies all of these characteristics. Yet even Matilda is dominated by Zastrozzi, unable to deny his demands. She agrees to help him find vengeance by seducing Verezzi, played superbly by Grey Blanco, who creates a flamboyant, energetic, and almost pitifully innocent character. He is the perfect opposite of Zastrozzi: painfully optimistic, dressed in bright pinks and purples, and having an epiphany every other line—one moment he is a messenger of God, the next he is a saint, the next, a visionary. He falls madly in love with a woman after only saying "Hello," and that is the key: Verezzi does, in fact, suffer from madness, a result of blocking the murder out of his memory.

Rounding out the cast are Evening Star Barron, who played Julia in this performance (another role shared with Brown), the innocent young woman who gets caught up in the chaos. She is seduced by Zastrozzi, unsuccessfully wooed by Verezzi, kidnapped by Bernardo, and nearly killed by Matilda. Finally, there is Victor, Verezzi's tutor and protector, played by Jose Castro.

As is the status quo for Rodey productions, Zastrozzi boasts impressive technical elements as well. The set is elaborate and ornate; the lighting and sound somewhat literally enhance the gothic atmosphere with lightning and thunder effects punctuating almost every scene. Scenic designer Amaris Puzak, costume designer Anna Avery, lighting designer William Liotta, and sound designer Ashley Brown must be credited for their outstanding work.

Zastrozzi: The Master of Discipline runs through November 18th at UNM's Rodey Theatre, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $15 General, $12 Faculty and Seniors, and $10 Staff and Students. To purchase tickets, call 505-925-5858 or visit unmtickets.com. For more UNM theatre information, visit theatre.unm.edu.


Photo: Margot Geist

--Sarah Parro



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